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Part Three: 1949 – 1959, Hollywood Studios
The End of the Hollywood Studio System

Who’s the dummy? Television work helped pay the bills. This photo is from a television job I did for Screen Gems in 1955. Puppeteer Jack Shafton is manipulating a puppet version of me. The photo was taken between scenes of "Mimi" at Ford Theatre.

Revue Productions kept me working enough to pay the bills between pictures. I figured I was doing pretty well, since I didn’t have to pay commissions to my agent, who was also my producer, until I did a show with Peter Graves.

It’s unusual, if not unheard of, for actors to discuss their salaries. I really can’t remember how the subject came up. I’d been working fairly steadily at Revue doing leads for $400 a crack. I figured that was the going price. Peter, who was not an MCA client, was co-starring with me and being paid a thousand. There was a little hell raised back at the office the next day, and my TV salary suddenly jumped to a thousand a show.

Love Me or Leave Me - MGM Studios

In the summer of 1954, I got a call from Harry Friedman that Producer Joe Pasternak and director, Charles Vidor, wanted to see me at MGM for the second lead in the picture Love Me or Leave Me to star Doris Day and James Cagney. It was the story of singer Ruth Etting. Pasternak and Vidor were all smiles and welcomes as I entered the office, which was slightly smaller than Dore Schary’s.

"We’ll make a test, but it’s really only a formality," he said. You’ve got the part if you want it." He cleared his throat and downed a few more pills from one of the many bottles on his desk. "Miriam Schary wants you here at the studio."

"It’s still a straight seven years, and I’d have no say in what I was going to do."

"Rick, you’ll be treated right. Believe me. Miriam has been on our backs for weeks. She’s driving us crazy. Help us out, will you?"

They sat and looked at me. "I’d love to help you out. More than that, I’d love to work for you, and with Miss Day and certainly Jimmy Cagney. The business is changing and I don’t see that my request is too unreasonable these days." Obviously it was. Cameron Mitchell played the part. From then on, MCA appeared to take less and less interest in me. I was too hard-nosed.

Love Me or Leave Me was a success, but a little less than two years later, as the business slowed almost to a halt because of the inroad of television, MGM shut down for six months and Schary’s contract was terminated. It’s a sure bet I would have been dropped, too.

Schary had started as a playwright, went to Hollywood, worked his way up to head of production at RKO and then unseated the unseatable Louis B. Mayer. When next heard from, he’d returned to New York and authored the prize-winning and highly successful play about Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt during the years when Roosevelt contracted polio, Sunrise At Campobello. Though it was made into a blockbuster picture starring Ralph Bellamy (reprising his Broadway role) and Greer Garson, Schary never moved back to Hollywood.

I must have been a subject of continued and frustrated conversation in the Schary home, because years later, when I’d become something of a household name from Combat!, one of the Schary’s two daughters, Jill, wrote a fictional novel about Hollywood. I was a bachelor at the time and a girlfriend of mine read it and was incensed. Jill Schary had referred in her book to a not very good "bit player" whom she called Rick Jason. I was more bemused than anything, but my girlfriend asked if I wasn’t going to do something about it. I shook my head. I thought to myself, Miriam Schary must have raised holy hell around her house about me. I’d perceived in her a most determined woman who was used to getting her way.

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